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‘Dear Butthead’: when a neighbourhood noticeboard gets nasty | Maddie Thomas

Everyone who has shared a clothesline in an apartment block will know the feeling of dread when something goes missing: who stole my washing and how am I going to get it back?

When I moved into my apartment building – a quaint, art deco block of 13 – everyone knew each other. Working from home every day, within a matter of months, I came to know almost everyone too. They swapped stories about the windows that needed replacing or the origin of the hole in the fence. We convened on the landings as we passed each other at night, and kids came to the door for trick or treat.

But in three years things have changed. And with that has come the increased use of the noticeboard.

The first note, made out to “Ms. or Mr. Butt”, set the tone.


I hadn’t noticed the cigarette butts that were “burning holes” on the astroturf in the back yard but someone else sure had. Complete with said cigarette butts taped to the page, the reprimand was gentle (“we are a great community and welcoming of all”) but firm (“stop being a tosser and bin your butt … plus, smoking kills you!”). A few months later the second note came. This time the salutations were gone – the culprit was addressed only as “Butthead”.

Now, alongside the business cards of plumbers and electricians, and an old hand-drawn guide to recycling from one of the resident children, a new neighbourhood order has begun.

Even in the digital age where social media is one giant pinboard, community noticeboards can be just the place for the lost-and-found register, and the “come to this party”, “join my sport team”, “pet sit while I’m on holiday” or “buy my fridge” notices.

They can also be a place of intrigue. Before the vibe shift in our block, the only important thing on the pinboard were the minutes of the strata committee meeting, which revealed a great deal about the opinions of owners responsible for maintaining the building’s character – who is in favour of a cheap steel fence versus those standing firm on restoring the timber one.

For the most part I stay out of pinboard politics. But when my white jeans were stolen off the line, it was my turn.


I checked, double checked and checked again one morning to make sure they were gone, before asking whoever dared take them to please put them back. Several people witnessed my ire that day. After 48 hours they were quietly returned to the line.

A few weeks later the clothesline thief was called out once again, this time for taking someone’s lavender sheets. It is one way to motivate everyone to collect their washing as soon as it’s dry.

Next up was a request for a stolen meal-kit box to be returned to its owner. These tend to be left on doorsteps, open to the street, in pre-sunrise delivery runs.

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And so we now have some healthy neighbourhood drama. While it’s all far from a Rear Window-esque mystery, it might become a version of The Flatshare, a romcom series in which two tenants communicate entirely via Post-it notes.

Amid many comings and goings, I have fewer connections with the other dwellers now but I still know the resident groodle by name and have been put in charge of keeping the herb garden alive while my neighbour is away. The people who told us everyone’s names when we moved in have relocated – some to Melbourne, some to Perth and some just down the street – as their families have grown. With the rental market in crisis, dozens of interested parties have attended open inspections – letting me view the inside of almost every other unit in my building.

This week the longest standing resident became the latest to succumb to the noticeboard’s lures. In neat, cursive handwriting from another era, she asks for children’s toys and gardening equipment not to be left by her door, which fronts on to the back yard. As she rightly points out, it’s not a dumping ground.

We’d all do well to make the noticeboard less of one. Or at least reserve it only for Butthead.

Maddie Thomas

Published: 2023-06-17 21:00:24


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